Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Huddy: Storming Las Vegas

"I didn't enjoy killing or crime, but if that's how I could take my family out of poverty, then that's what I would do." Reluctant soldier John Rambo would likely understand this perspective from thieving mastermind Jose Manuel Vigoa Perez, the star of John Huddy's Storming Las Vegas: How A Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down The Strip To The Tune Of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars, And Millions Of Dollars, a true-crime book as stuffed as its subtitle. At 13, Vigoa was pulled from a baseball field in Cuba and sent to the Soviet Union to join the elite Spetsnaz force fighting in Angola and Afghanistan, where he was trained in surveillance and Kalashnikov-handling. Escaping Cuba during the Mariel boatlift, he traded casino errands for cocaine deliveries, compounding his eventual sentence of 19 years when he tried to run over two FBI agents who were chasing him.


Post-prison, when a meddlesome parole officer kept showing up at his work and betraying his criminal record, he returned to crime on a new scale, spying on Vegas' fleet of Brinks trucks and conducting a series of brief, high-firepower robberies, including hits on five Strip casinos in less than two years. Vigoa's military background let him take advantage of the city's newest casinos, which eliminated many of the safeguards classically built into the floor design, but his plans also shook up the local police force. Traditionally a haven where mid-career policemen put in their time before joining a major metro force, the department was tasked with protecting the new family-friendly Vegas against what seemed like a manifestation of its gangster past.

The portrait of Vigoa that emerges from Storming Las Vegas, created through many interviews he granted to Huddy, is that of success by a set of very different bootstraps, a man by his own admission driven to "dark thoughts" by his inability to provide for his family on the salary of a room-service attendant. Huddy's use of first-person "as told to" chapters makes it almost too tempting to sympathize with the man. But Huddy never lets these supposed motives—whether quoted in Vigoa's words or explored in his own smooth characterization—get in the way of what's essentially a real-life thriller. Eyewitness accounts from victims and pursuers like John Alamshaw, the cop who coordinated the FBI-PD team on the case, aren't as interesting as the intricate workings of the robberies, but Huddy knows better than to give them strictly equal time.